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posted: 8/17/2020 5:30 AM

In Transit: AAA warns of automated driving dangers

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  • Automated driving systems failed in some cases to detect cars parked on the sides of roads, AAA researchers found using fake vehicles on their closed course.

    Automated driving systems failed in some cases to detect cars parked on the sides of roads, AAA researchers found using fake vehicles on their closed course.
    Courtesy of AAA

  • Automated driving systems can save lives, but the technology is evolving, errors occur, and drivers need to stay engaged, AAA warns.

    Automated driving systems can save lives, but the technology is evolving, errors occur, and drivers need to stay engaged, AAA warns.
    Courtesy of AAA

 
 

Nothing like cruising along a country lane and letting your car do the driving.

With a high-tech automatic acceleration and braking system, it's possible to just lean back and admire the cows.

Giving control to your car, however, could put you on the path to danger, AAA warns.

Advanced driver assistance systems in five high-end vehicle models experienced issues such as lane departures every 8 miles, researchers found during tests over 4,000 miles of public roads.

And in scenarios when a simulated disabled car was parked on the side of the road, collisions occurred two-thirds of the time in tests on AAA's closed course.

That's not to say you should take a crowbar to your beeping, blinking dashboard. Driver assistance technologies, like blind spot detection, are preventing crashes, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has stated -- with caveats. The technology is still new and doesn't replace a driver, experts say.

"What's crucial is for drivers to clearly understand how these systems work before integrating them into their regular driving," AAA spokeswoman Molly Hart said Wednesday.

Before we go further, driver assistance technologies fall into different categories. Level 1 includes features available in many cars such as lane departure warnings and blind spot alerts.

AAA has studied Level 1 detection systems previously and found shortcomings. Last fall, researchers reported that automatic emergency braking systems to detect pedestrians worked inconsistently.

AAA's most recent report released this month focused on sophisticated Level 2 active driving assistance systems available in just 10% of 2020 model year vehicles.

They include an application that empowers the car to steer, brake and accelerate at the same time, although a driver must keep an eye on what's happening. Another involves remote parking with a driver outside the car but required to supervise.

When AAA drivers put the systems to the test, they reported 521 automation errors; 73% involved lane departures or erratic lane positions.

Comments included "sometimes the system disengages for no reason," "system fought using with steering wheel," "overall smooth operation," "system feels unnatural through curves," "unobtrusive and helpful" and "system would randomly steer."

AAA also tested whether the automation systems could detect disabled cars off to the side of the road and avoid crashing. Using simulated vehicles, researchers found collisions occurred 66% of the time at an average speed of 25 mph.

The vehicles tested included the 2019 BMW X7 with Active Driving Assistant Professional, 2019 Cadillac CT6 with Super Cruise, 2019 Ford Edge with Ford Co-Pilot360, 2020 Kia Telluride with Highway Driving Assist, and 2020 Subaru Outback with EyeSight.

After contacting all five manufacturers, Ford was the sole company that gave a comment.

"We listen to all customer feedback as well as key third-party insights, including AAA's, and use this to continuously improve our vehicles and features," Ford spokeswoman Kristin Tassi said. The all-new Explorer and Escape offer improvements on the 2019 version, she added.

AAA recommends "manufacturers should do more simulations, closed-course testing and actual on-road evaluations prior to releasing to the mass market," Hart said. "These systems need to perform more consistently in order to improve the driver experience and overall reliability and safety."

But it's also incumbent for consumers purchasing this new technology to inform themselves. "A dangerous scenario is if a driver has become disengaged from the driving task or has become too dependent on the system," Hart cautioned.

Your voice

Lots of readers reacted to last week's cycling column, including Terry Witt of Bartlett, who advises, "carry water from home in a bike bottle," and make sure it won't bounce away "at the first bump."

"Save energy drinks for after the ride, drink real water on the ride. Most water fountains have not been turned on because of COVID-19," he added.

Gridlock alert

Barrington residents can welcome Sept. 1 with lane closures on Route 14 between Hough Street and Lake Zurich Road. IDOT is repairing the bridge over Flint Creek; work wraps up around Thanksgiving.

Pace wants to know

Got an opinion about public transit during the COVID-19 era? Pace is all ears. The suburban bus agency is conducting a five-minute survey through Aug. 21 that will help it plan for rider needs in the coming months. For information, go to pacebus.com or call (847) 364-3968. Spanish speakers can call (847) 228-3575.